Are business class flights really worth the extra?
I recently had the opportunity to travel business class across the Atlantic from London to New York. I’ve always been of the opinion that I’d rather spend my holiday budget on accommodation and activities at my destination rather than on travel to it. An opportunity to fly business class with British Airways for less than the price of an economy ticket was too good to resist – more about that in a later post – so for the first time I crossed the pond in style.
So what did I think?
Heathrow’s Terminal 5 has two business class lounges but I was tipped off that South Lounge was the better of the two, so that’s where I headed after a very pleasant fast track security experience. I was very pleased to find a decent breakfast spread and had several yummy pastries, read the paper, hooked up to the free WiFi and relaxed in the nice padded chairs while I waited to board the aircraft. All very civilised, though I don’t really mind the bustle of airside especially where there’s somewhere decent to get a coffee.
The thing I hate most about boarding these days? The fact that because everyone is carrying such an enormous amount of carry on luggage, the overhead bins fill up. Consequently, there’s a mad dash to get in the queue to board so you avoid having to do a long haul flight with a bag squashed between your legs. Now this is somewhere that business class scores highly: there are fewer people fighting for bin space and you get to queue jump and board when you like. Of course the amount of stress in the economy cabin could also be reduced if the carry on weight and size limit was reduced to something sensible as opposed to the current policy of “bring the kitchen sink or the equivalent, we’ll cram it in somehow”.
I was a little nervous I’d show myself up by not being able to work the controls of the flat bed seat. I’ve only flown business class once before, a short hop from JFK to Dallas Fort Worth after being snowbound in New York for so many days the American Airlines call centre staff just wanted to get rid of me, and in any case that was a regular seat. In reality, I had nothing to worry about. Raising and lowering the privacy screen was the hardest part (and not exactly difficult) but the actual seat controls were a piece of cake. The addition of pink champagne was a bonus. I broke my own rule of always flying sober, but only because it felt rude not to take the glass that was proffered, you understand.
Would you like to fly backwards or forwards, Madam?
I’d been advised to try to get a window seat as with the screen up, you were in a little cocoon. Taking off and landing backwards felt very odd. That said, the rest of the flight was fine and it was great to be tucked away. So tucked away, in fact, that when I finally uncurled myself to pop to the toilet (disappointingly cramped), I was amazed to see everyone else lying flat. If I have to be critical (I feel I ought to be objective), I’d say the footrest was a bit of a stretch. Oh the hardship! Her Ladyship had to reach forward a little to put her feet up.
Oh the food! A delicious sounding menu was presented. It basically said I could eat them out of house and home – and then they’d bring me more. Take a look at the feast that I consumed:
And the invitation to just pig out… I love the line: “Of course the best thing about tasty treats is eating them rather than reading about them…” Of course. Of course! Pass the Cadburys.
Actually, in reality I was so stuffed I could barely shuffle to the Club Kitchen, let alone raid it. Note to self: if you ever the chance again to fly business class long haul, make it to Sydney or Auckland. Or at the very least to LAX.
Having reached JFK at least three dress sizes larger than when I left Heathrow, I came down to earth with a bump to join the long queue into the US. At least the whole of the economy cabin were behind me. I don’t mean that in a condescending way. I’m usually quick off the mark out of the plane and walk relatively fast, meaning most of the economy cabin are behind me when I disembark from an economy seat too. This time, however, with all that free food and drink sloshing around inside me, I had to walk slowly to make sure I didn’t spill any.
Until I realised I could be reclining flat on the outbound leg, I’d been most looking forward to the return journey. Sadly, this wasn’t to be as good. Although I was upstairs, supposedly better, I was in an aisle seat – nowhere near as peaceful as being tucked away by the window. And being one of BA’s sleeper services due to the late departure, I’d planned on eating in the lounge before take off, but found a rather unappetising buffet presented in the lounge at JFK. If this sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not, any free food is good as far as I’m concerned, but it wasn’t the gourmet experience I had on the outbound leg. Nor was the service as attentive or as friendly, but in the crew’s defence, we’d had a three hour delay to take off and no one was happy.
So what’s the verdict?
Based on the outbound leg particularly, I’d say you are made to feel very special in business class. I enjoyed being addressed by name. It is also a real treat to eat the meals course by course and not have to juggle plastic pots in a confined space. I loved the flat bed and found it very comfortable; I don’t usually snatch more than an hour or two’s sleep on a standard economy flight and yet on this I was sleeping so soundly I was dreaming. Fast tracking through security at Heathrow was very welcome. I’m not sure why the same service wasn’t available at JFK, though in fairness it may have been because of the delays and the need to process everyone as quickly as possible so they didn’t miss their flights.
All in all it was an experience I’d be delighted to repeat, though not one that justifies spending such a huge amount more. But keep an eye on this blog. Soon I’ll tell you how I achieved this journey for less than the price of an economy ticket – perfectly legit and no air miles needed.